People from a hundred years ago will almost certainly be astounded at some of the changes and trends in the restaurant industry. The fast food industry is responsible for many amazing trends that would have astonished the people from the 1920s. The idea that food can be prepared quickly would have been considered revolutionary. And concepts such as servers on skates and the drive-thru would have been unimaginable for them.
But now the restaurant industry is once again poised to take another seismic shift—the robots are coming. Some experts claim that in 2 decades, at least half of the restaurant jobs performed by human workers will be performed by robots instead.
First of all, we need to define what a robot is. It doesn’t have to look like a human being. It just has to be a machine that can perform a set of tasks repeatedly with precision. These days, they’re often computer controlled and programmable, and they can do what people do faster and better.
And now a company called Momentum Machines has already made a robot that can make burgers. In 2014, they released their first prototype. It pressed the patties and chopped the toppings, and then set the ingredients together for a tasty-looking hamburger sandwich.
It’s now been 2 years, and the company experts spent all that time perfecting the device. And now it seems like they have. In June of 2016 they posted ads looking for employees for their own restaurant that will feature their robotic chef.
This device isn’t just a gimmick to garner attention. It’s a true cost-cutting measure. The robot’s ability to do the job of 2 or 3 line cooks equates to a savings of up to $90,000 a year counting the costs of salaries and overhead. And it’s better for the customers, because they get perfect burgers each time.
And the Momentum Machines chef isn’t the only robotic food prep device on the horizon. Right now, there are already machines that can griddle pancakes, slice noodles, mix various cocktails, prepare pizza, and make sushi. And conceivably, these machines can work in a single restaurant.
If you think about it, mankind has long been served by robotic food servers. We’ve just been calling them by a different name: vending machines. Today, a few restaurants are already trying out automation for how customers can get their food.
In San Francisco, there’s Eatsa which has already implemented automation for how customers can order and pick up their meals. Now they don’t have to talk to a human cashier. They just tap on touchscreens to design their meals, and then they just get the food from windows. No servers and no one taking your order.
It’s very quick and easy, and the cost should be less. That’s because automation is cheaper for the restaurant in the long run, so those savings can translate to lower food prices.
Of course, a restaurant with just automation will have some fans of the human touch up in arms. It’s just so impersonal and sterile! Where’s the comfortable feeling of being welcomed by the human staff?
The answer is that full automation may not have to be necessary. Until robots begin to look like and act like humans, the machines may have to work behind the scenes first. After all, if customers can’t see if a machine or a human is preparing their food, then it won’t really matter to them.
At the same time, lots of research may be devoted to finding out exactly how people eat and how they enjoy their food. And automation can actually help here. Computerized machines with sensors can automatically adjust the restaurant’s temperature, lighting, and noise levels, like in a home equipped with a smart automated system. Even scents can be controlled. Restaurants can use biometric data to tweak the settings to maximize the comfort of the diners.
Far down the line, virtual reality is also coming. Right now there’s already a company called Project Nourished. They’ve already developed the virtual reality technology to make anyone experience just about any type of culinary dish.
The diners can wear Oculus Rift headsets so that they don’t see that they’re actually served gelatin. This vegan gelatin is then infused with the flavors of ginger and wasabi. Meanwhile, a machine pumps in the just the right whiff of seafood in the room.
So looking through the headset, the diners see that they’re eating sushi—and they believe it. All their relevant senses are telling them that what they’re chewing is indeed sushi.
Restaurants are basically better alternatives to just preparing food on your own while you eat inside your drab apartment. The food is better and comes more quickly, the settings are more enjoyable, and it’s different. With robots, the restaurant industry is poised to make dining out so much different, so much better, and even much more affordable than ever before.